Pretty much every year since I’ve been blogging I’ve posted something around this time of year about MLB.tv. Usually, it has to be said, a complaint of some kind. You see, I have a sort of love-hate relationship with my main source of baseball action.
I’m sure that most people who have any kind of interaction with MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM) will understand what I mean. And while I am of course grateful to be able to watch hundreds of baseball games from thousands of miles away, this years post is, to some extent at least, another complaint.
I do feel that I should make clear though, that I love MLB.tv. I love the service it provides. I love being able to watch 162 Rays games. I love being able to watch the playoffs, spring training, the WBC and the all-star game. I love having baseball on demand whenever I feel like watching it. Last year, I upgraded from standard to premium, and it was worth every single penny. Or indeed cent. Improved video quality, and the much-needed ability to choose either the home or away TV feed simply made things even better.
The problem is, that all that brilliance and accessibility makes the small problems that do exist even more glaring. Take ad breaks. When MLB.tv first started (or at least when I first started using it) the feed simply played all the adverts, as shown on the local TV station. Fine, no problem with that whatsoever. But then MLBAM decided to cut away from the feed during ad breaks. Sometimes to show their own ads for MLB.com, and associated sponsors, and sometimes just to show a placeholder MLB.tv screen. Fine, that’s ok too – I don’t need to see ads for random car dealerships in Pinellas County. It is unlikely that I will be looking to purchase a used Chevy from South Florida anytime soon. But, to cut away from and back to the feed needs somebody to be concentrating on the game the whole time. Which, when there are 15 games (and 30 feeds) on offer, simply doesn’t happen. I have lost count of the number of times when the feed doesn’t cut back in to hear the start of the commentators conversations. Worse, I have lost count of the number of times where the feed doesn’t cut back in time to see the first few pitches of an inning. I can even remember a couple of times when whole at-bats (and on one occasion an entire half inning) weren’t transmitted to MLB.tv subscribers. That is quite simply unacceptable.
Then there are picture sizing issues. That was my theme last year. A move to an updated version of media player meant different zooming options were available – and that all broadcasts were presented in widescreen. A move that resulted in 90% of the games I watched last year not taking up anywhere near the whole of my computer monitor when I put them into fullscreen mode.
So, this year’s complaint. The new player. First off, can I say for the record that from what I’ve seen so far it is going to be fantastic. Going to be.
Right now there are problems galore. Ok, so its only in Beta, but there is a huge amount of work to be done if it is to be fully up to speed for opening day. IF the picture quality truly gives stable, HD-level output, it will be brilliant. But right now the quality setting jumps all over the place for no apparent reason. IF the DVR functionality works properly, it will be truly awesome for anyone who actually has to do other things while the game is on. But right now, it isn’t exactly ready. IF the multi-game and picture-in-picture options work, then it’ll be great fun for keeping track on what’s going on elsewhere. But right now, the viewing experience isn’t even first rate with one solitary game available.
Now, there’s still a couple of weeks until Opening Day, so I can only hope that these problems will be sorted. But here’s the thing that has annoyed me, and it strikes me as typical of MLBAM’s attitude to its users. This page advertises the subscription. I cannot see any mention that the player is still only in Beta mode. It looks to me as though it is up and running and ready to go.
And, hold on a minute, why isn’t it? I realise that it isn’t possible to fully test its capabilities during the offseason – but surely, if MLBAM were planning to herald its features as a major part of their subscription drive, then they ought least to have been able to ensure that it could successfully broadcast a single feed at a sustained quality level? Its that kind of attitude that annoys me – the assumption that customers will be happy to be used as testers. I mean, I’d be renewing my subscription whatever, but what of the people who looked at that advert and thought, “ooh, hi-def and DVR on my computer? I’ll have some of that!”? They’ll shell out their money, and then find they’ve got to test out an unready product – at least for spring training, and potentially going into the regular season as well. Not exactly responsible business practice.
Anyhow, semi-coherent rant over. As I said, I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to watch baseball over the ‘net. I just find the customer relations and cavalier attitude of MLBAM incredibly frustrating. Especially since they don’t need to be. They have a fantastic product to sell. Be honest, be open, be truthful. Develop what they can, when they can. Test it, test it again, release it. The business will take care of itself – and you’ll get easy, good press into the bargain. Not random postings across the internet complaining about your customer service. Maybe it’s just me, but I think I’m talking sense.
MLBlogs addendum: If anyone knows how I can change the annoying jjuk tagline on this blog to read John, please please please let me know. I know where the setting is on the dashboard, but it just resets itself every time I change it, and it is really annoying!!!
Ok, so here we go. 2008. So many things to talk about.
Baseball first, as it should be of course. And I would firstly like to thank the Orioles (and in fact baseball in general) for scheduling openers as day games. This meant that I could watch the Rays take on the O’s at a very reasonable 8.05pm start time. Nice.
As I’m sure you know, James Shields got the nod for the Rays in Kaz’s absence, and a very good job he did too. After a somewhat shaky first inning (understandable in the circumstances) in which he threw 28 pitches and gave up two runs, he was lights out from there on. Final line – 7 innings pitched, 5 hits, 2 runs, 3 walks and 2 K’s. And perhaps most encouragingly, despite not having his best stuff, only 86 pitches in total – if he can keep that up once his arm is stretched out more then several complete games are sure to follow.
Coming in behind Shields, Trever Miller, Al Reyes and Dan Wheeler pitched 2 innings for just a solitary hit, which while not indicative of anything is of course a positive start considering the shambles that was our ‘pen in 2007.
Then we come to the hitting. And I will start on a slightly disappointing note for me. As anyone who has read this blog in the past will know, I was looking forward to Jonny Gomes getting regular play out in right. But while I wouldn’t swap him for anyone (and scroll down to number 18 on this list for just an example of why), even I recognise that he is a little bit too all-or-nothing. I still think he can achieve big things given the chance, but once again he will be sharing playing time this year.
And the man he will be splitting right with is something of a surprise – Eric Hinske. A non-roster invitee, Hinske had a great spring, and deservedly got the start on opening day. He didn’t disappoint either, belting a fourth-inning line drive homer. That shot extended what had become a Rays lead in the second thanks to a swinging-bunt by CC and a 2-run single by BJ Upton. Jason Bartlett and Dioner Navarro added RBI-singles in the 6th to round off a 6-2 win to put the Rays proudly atop the AL East. Navvy had a very strong day at the plate, going 3-4, as well as collecting a stat that I’m guessing we won’t see very often from him – caught stealing at home plate! Part of a double-steal of course, but still…
All in all, it was a very encouraging start – nothing to get too excited about of course, but with the exception of a shaky first the all round performance was very solid. Hopefully its going to stay that way!
As its the start of a new season, there are of course many things changing, and one of them is, I’m afraid, going to result in one of my semi-regular complaints about MLB.tv. Now don’t get me wrong, I love that I can watch the Rays from an ocean away, but seriously guys, you don’t do yourself any favours. My complaints today are twofold – firstly I assume that MLB.tv are hoping that people switch to the Silverlight media player. Well, I would be happy to try it, except that it won’t install on my old computer. Fine, I can live with that. Except that the Media Player no longer has the nice options for resizing the picture. Last year (and during Spring Training) you could watch it at the standard half-window size, expand it to the full window, or make it full-screen. Now the full window option has been removed and the full screen option is the native media player zoom, resulting in poorer quality. Why take options away?
The second issue is that judging from last night’s game, MLB.tv is now presenting its games in widescreen. Ok, so I don’t have a widescreen monitor, I’m going to have big black bars at the top and bottom of the picture when I watch fullscreen. I can just about live with that. But when, as was the case last night, the game isn’t shown in widescreen anyway, that means I have the black bars on both sides as well – leaving me with a picture that takes up maybe 70% of the screen rather than all of it. Now I don’t know how many games are now transmitted in widescreen, but I’m guessing that most of the ones that are shown on local networks are not. Which means I’m going to have to put up with small pictures and big black borders this year. Nice.
Ok, rant over, and onto the new blogosphere. First impression – I like the look. Its definitely eye-catching. But its going to take a while to figure everything out. I also think it would have been nice to give a bit more of a heads-up to existing users – would an e-mail have been too much to ask? I don’t think I’m alone as well in wishing there was a user-guide to the new interface somewhere around here… but I’m sure that these little things will get easier soon.